Meet the Volunteers: Diana Hansen, Secretary and Trustee of the Friends of The Keep Archives (FoTKA)
1 June 2018
‘Volunteering at The Keep is completely different from what I normally do. It’s intellectually challenging, absorbing, personally rewarding – and very worthwhile as well.’
‘I completed a History degree at Sussex University in the 1960s and went on to work for the Civil Service in the Treasury and then the Ministry of Defence. After retirement, we came back to Brighton and I decided to do an MA in History. This included a course on palaeography taught by Christopher Whittick, now County Archivist at East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), which is based at The Keep. Naturally I became interested in archives, and Christopher, well, he’s a very persuasive man! Before long I became one of his volunteers at ESRO in Lewes. I’m currently working on the archives of the Ashburnham Estate. I especially enjoyed cataloguing sketchbooks of a Grand Tour to Italy, Greece and the Middle East, with fine portraits of exotic warriors and elders enjoying a shisha. Before that, I worked on letters from Louisa, a daughter of the Elphinstone family of Ore Place, and her quarrelsome husband Robert, finding out much about the family in the process – how their fortunes went up and down and how they ended up living cheaply in Europe like many poverty-stricken aristocrats of the time. It was entertaining stuff!
‘I joined the Friends of East Sussex Record Office as a trustee ten years ago. Now my roles at FoTKA have changed slightly. I’m Secretary and Trustee – it sounds onerous but it isn’t. I inherited from the late Pam Combes the editorship of the six-monthly newsletter, which is something I can do from home, while being a Trustee involves attending four meetings a year, ensuring agendas are relevant and that minutes are written up.
‘Friends of The Keep pay a moderate membership fee and this goes towards financing new acquisitions for the archive – they might be postcards, documents, letters, maps – costing anything from £10 to £1,000. Recently, the unique collection of lantern slides detailing the construction of Beachy Head lighthouse between 1900 and 1902 was purchased with funding from the Friends, together with contributions from other grant-giving bodies and residents of Eastbourne – it was a good example of a community working together. If you’re interested in East Sussex and its historic buildings, becoming a Friend brings excellent benefits. We organise privileged visits to houses and places of interest which are often not open to the general public, accompanied by speakers with unrivalled knowledge of the area.
‘Much of my volunteering is done in the autumn and winter; I try to come to The Keep every other week for a morning or so. I also love sailing so I’m usually doing that for six weeks in the summer – my FoTKA colleagues have been known to panic when I haven’t answered an email for several days! When I was at the Treasury and MOD, I loved working with the army and meeting all sorts of different people and this happens here, too. Friends of The Keep come from many different backgrounds but we all share a love of the history and buildings of East Sussex. I hope more people join us!’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman
For more information about the Friends of The Keep Archives, including details of how to join, please visit the FoTKA website.
Meet the Volunteers: Emily Manser on Recording Remembrance and the Brighton War Memorial
3 April 2018
I have been volunteering at The Keep since November 2017. I wanted to volunteer was because I have always loved learning about history and believe that in order to understand our present, we must learn about our past. At The Keep I have the opportunity to help preserve that history so it is available for years to come.
The project I have been working on is Recording Remembrance, which focuses on locating and recording war memorials in and around East Sussex. While looking through copies of the Brighton Herald on the Royal Pavilion & Museums Digital Media Bank for mentions of war memorials, I came across an interesting article (pictured right). It described how the parents of a fallen soldier received correspondence from a lady in Occupied Belgium, four months after his death. The parents were Reverend William Teesdale Mackintosh and Ethel Lawrence Mackintosh of Alfred Road, Brighton; their son was Second-Lieutenant Douglas Fraser Mackintosh of the Royal Field Artillery, attached Royal Flying Corps, and the Belgian lady provided a detailed account of his heroic, yet tragic, death. The following is a partial transcription of the text published in the Herald on 23 February 1918;
‘Two British airmen were brought down in Occupied Belgium,
after a gallant fight with seven of the enemy. The German
aviator who claimed the victory descended close to the spot
and said: “What a pity! They were such heroes! They could have
escaped but preferred to die fighting. Never have I met with
such resistance before.” The Two heroes were buried with
The other soldier mentioned was Second-Lieutenant W R Bishop (pilot); they died on 2 October 1917. Second-Lieutenant Douglas Fraser Mackintosh was 27 years of age.
If the story tells us anything, it’s that even in a time of great suffering and horror, there were acts of compassion and respect, even between enemy and ally. At the end of it all, no matter what side they were on, they were all just men thrown into a war that no one fully understood.
Our aim with the Recording Remembrance project is to link people with memorials and fortunately, upon further research, I was able to do this for Second-Lieutenant Douglas F. Mackintosh. His name, along with 2,599 others, 3 of which were women, is inscribed on the Brighton Memorial on the Old Steine. The memorial stands at the north end of the gardens. Built in the style of a Roman water garden, it features a large memorial pool. A fountain in the centre of the pool provides a sense of calm, something that would have been severely lacking on the battlefields of France and beyond.
At one end of the pool stands a U-shaped colonnade made from Portland stone. In the centre of the colonnade there is a semi-enclosed space and within that space there is a stone altar table; a place for remembrance and contemplation. This area is crowned with a small stone dome.
At the north-west and north-east corners of the colonnade, standing like guards at their post, there are two bronze pylons. It is here where the names of 2,600 servicemen and women of Brighton who fell during the First World War are inscribed. Their names forever etched in history. It is memorials like these that stand as a testament to all those who fought and all those who fell in service to their country. That is why we, with the help of the public, are working to find and record all the war memorials in East Sussex; to ensure that the names of those who served and their sacrifice is never forgotten.
We will remember them.
The Recording Remembrance project was established in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. Its purpose is to record all of the memorials located in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove. Currently there are 832 memorials listed by the Imperial War Museum on the website, however many of these have missing information. We are asking members of the public and local history groups to record information on war memorials in their area, including the location, condition, form and inscription. Once the data has been collated, it will be added to the county’s Historic Environment Record.
Information relating to people named on war memorials, such as name, age, regiment and burial place, can also be added to the Recording Remembrance website. Person records can then be linked to their respective memorials, allowing researchers to find out more about individuals.
With the centenary of the end of the First World War fast approaching, we are asking as many people as possible to get involved with recording the county’s memorial heritage.
Further information can be found at http://www.recordingremembrance.org.uk/help
Meet the Volunteers: Julia Wacker, volunteer for the German Jewish Collections
4 October 2017
‘The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there’, Gandalf (Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings)
‘I wanted to get out of my daily routine, even if it was just for two months. I’m doing a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Besides my studies, I work as a student assistant at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. My weekdays include a three-hour commute between my hometown and Berlin.
The Erasmus programme gave me the opportunity to do the required internship for my Master’s programme in another country. As I wanted to polish my spoken English, Great Britain was my first choice. I contacted many institutions all over the country and The Keep responded with interest. As my native language is German, the German Jewish Collections held by the University of Sussex were a perfect fit. After organising the flights, lots of paper work, a small language test and finding accommodation, I was able to start my little adventure.
My first day at The Keep was 31 July. Everyone here is welcoming and very friendly, and speaking English all day turned out not to be that difficult. I was amazed when I realized how many different types of materials are held here: maps, photos, newspapers, prints – and many more. Considering all the different projects people are working on, I also found it surprising how well staff get on with one another.
I was shown around the whole building, which includes the reading room, the repository for all the stunning archival material, the digitisation suite and a lot more. I got to see the University of Sussex campus, including the library, where I worked for a week. I joined a number of workshops, helped at The Keep’s Open Day and attended a conference, Digitising the Past: Revealing Jewish History, at the London Metropolitan Archives . I also got an insight into some of the other collections, such as the Mass Observation Archive and, for a special treat, learned how to bind my own book in the conservation studio.
The family collections of the German Jewish Collections include really personal mementoes, like watches and Poesiealben (friendship books). During my time at The Keep, I worked continuously on various things. I transcribed a German diary written by an 18-year old girl in 1884 from old German script into modern script, which was sometimes quite difficult because of the handwriting. I enjoyed that very much, because it contained a lot of gossip about a ‘Mr Springer’ and I wanted to know if they became a couple in the end – they didn’t, because ‘Mr Springer’ paid no attention to her. I also processed many digital images of archives so that they can be made accessible to The Keep’s users. Further, I boxed and described books about Rudyard Kipling, and repackaged and listed a new donation for the German Jewish Collections.
All in all, it really was the right decision to leave my shell and to go for an internship abroad. The Keep is full of lovely staff, fascinating materials and many mysterious stories about people from another time that are there to be explored. I will also really miss the gorgeous tea.
Meet the Volunteers: Brian Nash, conservation volunteer
2 June 2017
‘We love coming in and have formed long-lasting friendships with others in the group’
The newspaper archive is one of the most popular and widely used resources at The Keep – and it keeps on growing. Last year, approximately 437 bound volumes of local papers dating from 1831 to 2003 were transferred from Hastings and Battle libraries to The Keep. Brian Nash, a volunteer at The Keep, has begun making bespoke boxes and packaging for each of the volumes, which will protect them from damage and preserve them for the future. He talks to Lindsey Tydeman about his work on the Hastings newspapers and about his wider role as a volunteer with the archive.
‘I was taught to make boxes by The Keep’s Head of Conservation Melissa Williams and now I, in my turn, am teaching others! Today I’m working on a bound volume of the Rye Observer from 2001-2002. I take the measurements of each volume and transfer them to a plan on a piece of card, scoring along the folds before cutting out and folding into shape. Once the volume is inside the box, the box is tied with thick tape. I’m a quick worker but it depends on the size and shape; these are large so I’ll probably make six today. It would be nice to read the newspapers which are going into them but there’s no time for that!
‘Before retirement I worked for Brighton and Hove City Council as a care officer looking after people with dementia. My wife, Jennifer, managed the Search Room at the East Sussex Record Office, based at The Maltings in Lewes. She encouraged me to join her in the office every other week – Thursday evening was known as ‘Volunteers’ Night’ – where several groups worked on different projects. I was involved with transcribing the East Sussex Baptism Index, transferring baptismal records from 16th century church registers in Rye on to cards and creating a card index. Even in normal circumstances this would have been a challenge as the writing of that time isn’t easy to read, but an added complication was the fact that at least ten per cent of births in Rye at this period were to French immigrants, whose names were recorded phonetically or scribbled down quickly by the English parish officials. Sometimes these officials didn’t even bother to try and write the surname but simply recorded the family as ‘French’ or ‘Frenchman’. That accounts for so many people with the name ‘Frenchman’ living in the Hastings area today!
‘When Jennifer and I retired we decided come over from Shoreham once a week to volunteer in Conservation. We knew about the planned move of the Record Office to The Keep, so started work on the thousands of documents which had to be cleaned and packed before this could happen. All of them were filthy and we had to wear masks and protective clothing before tackling them. The whole process took about two years, finishing just in time for our move here.
‘Since then I’ve concentrated on making boxes for a whole variety of archives stored at The Keep. It’s repetitive work but never boring as the archives themselves are changing constantly; you never know what’s going to turn up next. Recently I made a box for the earliest document we hold, a seal and charter of Henry I. It was dated 1101 – I couldn’t believe I was holding it in my hand! Then there were scores of boxes which had to be made for the glass plate negatives of photographs from The Argus. My local knowledge of Brighton proved invaluable here as many of the photographs came without identification, and I could help the archivist identify the places and buildings featured. I also enjoyed being involved with the conservation of the WW2 Book of Remembrance for St Peter’s Church in Brighton. That is beautiful.
‘I’ve lost track of the documents which have passed through my hands in Conservation. If I had been a student I would have taken notes of them all, but, of course, as a volunteer you don’t think about doing that. What we do know is that very little of this work would get done without us. We love coming in and have formed long-lasting friendships with others in the group. All you need is a common link; ours is an interest in local and family history and all the ‘old stuff’ that goes with it!
The collection of East Sussex newspapers at The Keep dates back to the middle of the 18th century, while those for the Brighton area start with the early editions of the Brighton Herald in 1806. The bound volumes recently transferred from Hastings include the South Eastern Advertiser, Hastings and St Leonards Observer, and the Hastings and St Leonards Pictorial Advertiser. The earliest is the Hastings and Cinque Ports Iris; St Leonards Chronicle or Sussex and Kent Advertiser, 1830-1831. Details of these and other newspapers in our archive can be found in our online catalogue and in our Guide to Newspapers. There is also a paper copy of the listing that can be consulted in our Reference Room.
Meet the volunteers: Monica Birchall, volunteer for Mass Observation
1 June 2017
‘Volunteering provides a wonderful opportunity to mix’
‘I’ve volunteered in many situations and until recently, I was a volunteer with CAB, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, counselling people on debt. But that was very stressful. This is different; it keeps my mind going and has put my life in perspective.
‘When my husband died I decided to do a part-time degree which then turned into a Master’s in Life History and Oral History. My primary research resource was the material in Mass Observation (MO) at the University of Sussex; I was overwhelmed by its depth and range. I fell in love with it! So much of the general history we read deals with the “great and the good” but these were the words of ordinary people, describing their lives and giving their views.
‘That was over six years ago. After finishing my MA, it seemed natural to apply as a volunteer for Mass Observation and I’ve been driving here from my home in Crowborough once a week ever since. The work? Well, I could be doing something as basic as helping with mailouts, or sorting through recently donated archives, removing paperclips and staples, or wrapping photographs.
‘Most of my day, however, is spent at the computer. When we receive replies to directives or special reports, it’s my job to input the basic data into the catalogue, such as titles, keywords and writers’ numbers, so researchers can see at a glance which directives specific writers have responded to. It’s not too technical and you don’t need an academic background to do it; however, you do need to have computer skills. Like many people, I found, when I returned to the workplace – albeit as a volunteer – that I needed to do a basic computer course! When I started here I thought that the older MO writers would be sending in handwritten responses while the under fifties would send emails, but no. There are writers in their nineties who prefer computers, and some in their twenties who use pen and ink. Maybe they sit at a screen for work all day and this is a form of light relief! I enjoy reading the handwritten responses, though; it gives a further layer of personality to the writer.
‘Volunteering provides a wonderful opportunity to mix, and at The Keep there’s a large staff working on a diverse range of projects. I’m always chatting to younger people, to academics, or simply to other volunteers with an interest in social history. Feeling needed is always a good feeling, and when you’re over a certain age, it’s even better!’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman
Meet the Volunteers: Where are they now?
17 June 2016
Following our ‘Volunteers’ Week’ posts, Lindsey Tydeman catches up with two former Keep volunteers who are now working in the industry
Volunteers at The Keep come from many different backgrounds. Some have never been to university but are working here out of pure interest in the material; others are retired but want to stay in the working environment. Then there are graduates, perhaps looking for their first job, who want to put theory into practice in-between application forms and interviews. Ellie King and Lauren Clifton are two former volunteers at The Keep who found the time they spent here invaluable when it came to obtaining paid employment in the industry.
Ellie King completed a first degree and MA in Film Studies and a further MA in Art History and Curating before her career took quite a different path. ‘Although I had always thought about film museum work, I accepted this wasn’t going to happen and I ended up spending several years working in retail management in Brighton. But then a neighbour in our village who was already working at The Keep suggested I volunteer there. I joined him in a project updating the Glynde Place archives, inputting them on to the internal database (called CALM) and learning how to work with and treat archival material. It was all really good experience and it was great to come back to curating! Recently I succeeded in obtaining an 18-month paid graduate archive internship working with the Attenborough papers, a recent acquisition by the University of Sussex, which are held at the Keep. That gets more interesting every day, as Richard Attenborough kept meticulous notes and documents from all the films he made, so we’re discovering new information all the time. But I don’t think I would have got the internship had I not had such recent experience with the cataloguing process.’
Lauren Clifton currently works at West Sussex Record Office, heading up the searchroom where she handles public enquiries, outreach events, volunteer projects, and the archive’s new social media presence. She has some strong thoughts on volunteering – ‘We would grind to a halt without our dedicated team of volunteer cataloguers!’ – and was a volunteer herself at The Keep a year ago while finishing her Archive and Records Management MA.
‘I worked on cataloguing in the Mass Observation Archive using the CALM system and I think the most beneficial part was my introduction back into the working environment after being in academic study. I had the opportunity to start putting into practice all the theory I had been learning on the course. Also, having completed my MA in Dublin, volunteering at The Keep was the perfect reintroduction into Sussex’s local archive community, this time as a professionally qualified archivist. I’m sure it gave me an advantage when looking for more permanent work.
‘At the West Sussex Record Office we have strong links with ESRO, and I have found myself back at The Keep several times over the past few months. It’s always nice to pop in and see the friendly faces I knew whilst volunteering there. And I still use the CALM software every day!’
Lauren now works with volunteers herself and appreciates the value of their work. ‘The sheer volume of records that are made available for public use through the hard work and dedication of volunteers giving up their time to contribute to the county’s rich history, is immeasurable. Whether you’re an eager historian looking to learn some new skills, a local history buff with knowledge to offer, or a budding archivist like myself, volunteering is a formative experience that will never stop being interesting.’
Meet the Volunteers: Dan Booker, cataloguing volunteer
10 June 2016
‘Volunteering at The Keep has been an amazing way of keeping my skills sharp’
‘I started a Modern History degree at UEA, the University of East Anglia, at Norwich, and I had the chance to take a module on Medieval Latin and Palaeography, the study of ancient writing that is used in deciphering historical manuscripts. That was it – I was hooked! I changed my degree to Medieval History and went on to do the MA.
‘Now I’m applying to do a PhD but I’m not sure where yet – it could be at UEA, York or Cambridge – and the subject will be something about the Exchequer under King John. But while I’m deciding, volunteering at The Keep has been an amazing way of keeping my skills sharp. During the past six months, I’ve been checking and cataloguing hundreds of deeds, including those belonging to the Gage family of Firle in Sussex. The Gages were an important family that acquired their Sussex estate by marriage in the 15th century, and augmented it during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s – in their case, they snapped up land and property that had been owned by Battle Abbey. They continued buying estates all over England during the next 300 years and became incredibly wealthy. In the early years of the 20th century, their archives passed to the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS) and volunteers there compiled a calendar – a detailed description – of all these deeds. Now my job is check each one against its entry in this calendar and make sure the details are correct – also, that no deeds have been missed out. The SAS did an amazing job but I have found a few mistakes and omissions, so I feel it’s a job well worth doing.
‘We tend to think today that a ‘deed’ – a paper or parchment document – is the business transaction itself, but that wasn’t the case in medieval England. Originally, when these transactions were made, it was the verbal agreement or action, the physical ‘deed’, which was important. The recorded ‘deeds’ were purely a record. They would be written in Latin by a scribe who had been trained to read and write, and each would have witnesses from the landowner’s household. Usually you get three or four witnesses per deed – they generally mark a cross by their name – but I’ve recently seen one with twelve. That must have been a very important transaction! Witness lists are a good source of social history, too, as you can infer local friendships and alliances from the names listed – obviously social networking has always been important!
‘I’ve been doing this since November and feel very fortunate that my palaeography skills haven’t slipped! But you have to remember that what I’m doing is only a tiny part of what goes on at The Keep. I might be mad about medieval documents, but that’s just me. Here there’s something for everyone!’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman
Introducing The Argus Glass-plate Negatives
7 June 2016
By Kate Elms and Emma Skinner
The newspaper archive is one of The Keep’s best-loved local history resources – it’s rare for a day to go by without at least a handful of people coming through our doors to search through back issues of The Argus or one of the other Brighton and East Sussex papers that we keep on microfilm in our Reference Room. What we have never been able to offer, however, is the opportunity to view the photographs accompanying the published articles and reports, which range from events of national importance to family weddings and local sporting encounters. But thanks to some of our wonderful volunteers, we’ve taken the first steps to making digital copies of some of these images more accessible.
The Keep holds a substantial collection of glass-plate negatives from The Argus‘s photographic archive. Some came directly from the paper to East Sussex Record Office, others were part of Brighton Museum’s local history collection and have recently been integrated with ESRO’s holdings. They date from the early 1930s to the early 1960s and, potentially, offer a tantalising visual record of Brighton’s history at this time. However, before any of these images can be viewed, there is an enormous amount of work to be done.
The first phase, now complete, took place in our conservation studio, where a dedicated group of volunteers have been meeting every Thursday for the past 18 months to clean the negatives. Around 15 people have been involved in the project, some coming for a few months, others just in the school holidays or in between paid work. A core group have come in nearly every week since September 2014. Over the weeks, they all gained confidence in their manual handling of these fragile items and, after a few boxes, became highly adept at cleaning, documenting and repackaging something in the region of 40,000 glass plates.
The conservation process initially required assessment of the boxes in which the negatives had been stored in the delivery area of The Argus‘s office in Hollingbury. The completion of documentation is a core conservation task and serves to record all treatment carried out on the plates themselves. Gelatin silver glass plates are covered with a gelatin coating containing silver particles making up a negative photographic image. They are prone to silver mirroring (bloom) and delamination, whereby the emulsion comes away from the base caused by extremes in relative humidity and poor storage conditions.
The plates were lightly brushed on both sides to remove surface dirt, and then cleaned on the glass side only with cotton wool and a small amount of water. It was often challenging to tell the glass side from the emulsion side and, for the first few weeks, the volunteers would need a second opinion before they became confident in telling them apart. Once cleaned, the glass plates were repackaged; with nearly half of the original boxes damaged beyond repair, new ones were made with acid-free card. Gloves were worn at all times, and extra care had to be taken handling cracked or broken plates. These were packaged separately, with the contents clearly marked that extra precautions should be taken until further conservation treatment could be carried out.
We originally predicted it would take three years to complete this project, and so to finish in just 18 months is a testament to the hard work and commitment of our conservation volunteers. They did admit, however, that they were pleased they never saw the archive in its entirety at the beginning as it would have been overwhelming to see the extent of the task ahead!
The next step, which will be equally challenging and time-consuming, involves matching the numbered negatives to their corresponding entries in the negative registers. The registers were completed by Argus staff at the time the photographs were taken, providing details of their subject, where and when they were taken, and where and when they were published (the registers also refer to photographs published in the Brighton Gazette and Sussex Daily News). While one dedicated volunteer transcribes the registers, creating digital records that can later be uploaded to The Keep’s online catalogue, another is scanning the negatives themselves – one numbered box at a time – creating an archive of fantastic images.
The two strands of work are being carried out simultaneously and, when the job is done, it should be possible to search for images using a keyword, name or date. This is because the cataloguing process will cross-reference entries in the negative register with the scans of the negatives themselves. It’s a huge task – so please don’t inundate us with requests for specific photographs as we’re not at that stage yet – but it’s certainly a worthwhile one. Tests carried out so far suggest that the quality of these images is superb – although glass-plate negatives were disappearing from consumer use by the 1920s, some professional photographers continued to use them until about 1970 for this very reason.
We would not be able to undertake projects of this scale at The Keep without the time and skills offered to us by volunteers. We hope, in return, that they enjoy their time with us while developing their knowledge and skills, meeting other people who are interested in local history, and helping look after the wealth of material held in our archive.
Updates on progress with the Argus negatives will be posted on our blog and social media channels – watch this space!
Meet the Volunteers: Elaine MacGregor, conservation volunteer
3 June 2016
‘I love the camaraderie you get in a volunteer group’
‘When I started volunteering at The Keep about 18 months ago, I chose to work in conservation – we’ve got lots of old family photograph albums and documents at home and I wanted to learn how to restore and conserve them. The first job I was given was cleaning maps, and I was surprised – and thrilled! – to be handling some which were nearly three hundred years old.
‘Today I’m cleaning glass-plate negatives of postcards; I put blue nitrile gloves on first, then use a really soft bristle brush on both sides, followed by cotton wool and water on the shiny side only. You’d be amazed at how much dirt comes off. Then they’re repacked in the original boxes with unbleached buffered tissue between each one. The negatives are a recent purchase from the Brighton-based business Wardell’s Postcards which was started by Bill Wardell in the early twentieth century – there are over 6,000 of them – and we’re also trying to sort them into areas as we go along.
‘I love the camaraderie you get when working in a volunteer group. You talk as you work and there’s not a subject we haven’t covered – sex, politics, books – you name it, we have discussed it! I’m one of the oldest volunteers at 71 but, old or young, it really doesn’t matter. We’ve been round to each other’s for dinner and have stayed in touch after people have left. And although having an interest in history is useful, it’s not absolutely necessary because conservation work is a goal in itself and we’re all working towards it.
‘One thing that has sunk in during my time here is the importance of preserving documents correctly if we want them to last. I was in India last year researching some ancestors who had lived and worked in Trichinopoly, Southern India. We visited the local Anglican church and I was handed a plastic bag containing the church register from 1810-1834 – the book was virtually in pieces and riddled with silverfish. How I wished I could have brought it back here and repaired it! But I did manage to photograph every page – over 1,000 in all – so at least there’s a record. I’ve also transcribed about 3,000 baptisms and burials from this book and have uploaded them with the photos on to various family history websites.
‘Volunteering is a fascinating way of finding out how an archive works from the inside. I have Thursdays marked on my calendar through the year now – I can’t imagine not coming to The Keep!’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman
Meet the Volunteers: Rosemary Lynch, cataloguing volunteer
2 June 2016
‘I’ve lived in Sussex all my life but I didn’t know about any of this stuff!’
‘Since gaining my history degree I’ve been volunteering at The Keep for three days a week, and I’ve catalogued several collections. Cataloguing – well, it can be a long process! You need a slightly different skillset to what’s required for a degree. It’s not really about researching, it’s more about organisation, sorting the clutch of papers in front of you into meaningful groups, and within those, in chronological order. I list them by date, title and give a short description and reference number. The idea is to make them accessible to the public as soon as we can.
‘The most interesting project I’ve worked on recently is a collection of letters from Stephen Fuller, the Sussex ironmaster. There are 150 in all, spanning about five years. Fuller owned an ironworks in Brightling which made cannon for the British government and his correspondence reveals unexpected details about his personal life and the local area – I’d never worked on anything with such a local focus. The iron furnaces relied on a constant supply of wood and Fuller gets angry with his workers when he thinks they’ve paid too much for it. He also hates it when he feels another local ironworks is undercutting him.
‘I’ve started looking at the Fuller family account books and those too are full of detail which wouldn’t show up in any other source. Here there’s information about his employees and farm tenants, records of contracts to haul the cannon from Sussex to Kent and on to the Arsenal at Woolwich (with the contractors’ making their marks instead of signing their names), accounts for hiring Morris dancers at festivals and records of payments to his son’s writing master. Women often feature as farm tenants in their own right – renting in their own name – which I thought was interesting as this means they were doing business on their own terms. I’ve lived in Sussex all my life but I didn’t know about any of this stuff!
‘In September I’m starting the one-year Archives and Records Management course at Liverpool University and I feel confident about the skills I’ve learned – after all, cataloguing is the nitty-gritty of archiving!’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman